The Most Beautiful Towns in New Zealand

Lake Wanaka is one of the most iconic and beautiful locations in all of New Zealand
Lake Wanaka is one of the most iconic and beautiful locations in all of New Zealand | © Amril Izan Imran / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Helen Armitage
18 May 2021

Idyllic beaches, breathtaking mountains, beautiful lakes; New Zealand has it all. From gorgeous Queenstown, New Zealand’s adventure capital, to the renowned surfing destinationof Raglan on the North Island, we traverse this beautiful country to bring you 10 of its most scenic towns.

Queenstown

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Red rib boat speeding down a river, Shotover Jet Rib Boat experience near Queenstown, New Zealand
© Nathaniel Noir / Alamy Stock Photo

Dubbed the ‘adventure capital of New Zealand’, Queenstown is nestled on the edges of the crystal clear Lake Wakatipu on South Island. Its lakeside location offers everything from high-energy jet boating to relaxing river cruises and fly fishing, while the breathtaking scenery of the surrounding mountains is suited to walkers, hikers and photographers hoping to capture the area’s iconic rugged landscape. Small and laid back, but simultaneously cosmopolitan and lively, Queenstown boasts fine dining restaurants, a bustling bar scene and a packed cultural calendar with events such as the Queenstown Winter Festival, a huge celebration centered around raucous street parties.

Feilding

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
Map View
Steam Traction Engine at  Feilding, Manawatu, North Island, New Zealand.  Clock tower behind.
© Geoff Marshall / Alamy Stock Photo

A 14-time winner of Keep New Zealand Beautiful’s Most Beautiful Town award, Feilding is known for its beautiful Edwardian architecture, boutique shopping, historic museum collections and rural charm. Located just north of Palmerston North, Feilding is the rural center of the Manawatu District. It is home to Feilding Saleyards, a livestock sale held in town since 1880 and the weekly Feilding Farmers’ Market. For history buffs and motoring enthusiasts, there is The Coach House museum and Manfeild Racing Circuit, while for art lovers a walk around Feilding’s central business district should entertain as the walls of its buildings are adorned with murals by local artist Eric Brew.

Whakatane

Historical Landmark
Map View
Panoramic view of the town of Whakatane, New Zealand, with many small boats on the harbor
© Michael Williams / Alamy Stock Photo

A jewel of the North Island’s Bay of Plenty, Whakatane boasts history, culture, stunning coastal scenery and, as the four-time winner of the New Zealand’s Sunshine Capital title, an ideal respite from some of New Zealand’s harsher climes. Discover local Maori culture at Mataatua Wharenui, a 130-year-old Maori meeting house and the Whakatane Library And Exhibition Center, or perhaps at events such as The Summer Arts Festival. The nearby White Island, home to New Zealand’s only active marine volcano and Ohope Beach, one of the country’s best-loved beaches, offers plenty of activities for outdoorsy types.

Russell

Natural Feature
Map View
Waterfront at Russell, Bay of Islands, New Zealand
© Robert Wyatt / Alamy Stock Photo

Small in size but rich in history, Russell is a beautiful coastal hamlet nestled in the Bay of Islands (or northern New Zealand). As one of New Zealand’s first European settlements and first official capital, Russell is home to some of the country’s oldest architecture including the delightful Christ Church and the Pompallier Mission, New Zealand’s oldest church and industrial building respectively. Charter a yacht and head off dolphin spotting before retreating to one of Russell’s charming waterfront dining spots – such as the historic Gables Restaurant – for locally caught seafood and stunning bay sunsets.

Wanaka

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
Map View
The Town Of Wanaka, Lake Wanaka, Otago Region, South Island, New Zealand
© Grant Rooney / Alamy Stock Photo

With the breathtaking Mount Aspiring National Park and two pristine alpine lakes on its doorstep, it’s only natural that Wanaka has become a haven and base for travelers exploring the South Island’s rugged, unspoiled beauty. The park, a World Heritage Site, is home to magnificent peaks, waterfalls and glaciers and featured in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The town’s namesake Lake Wanaka and neighboring Lake Hawea offer plenty of further recreation in the form of fishing, cruising and kayaking. Foodies won’t be disappointed with Wanaka either, the town boasts a cosmopolitan community of cafes and restaurants featuring fare from award-winning chefs.

Picton

Architectural Landmark, Natural Feature
Map View
Picton, New Zealand - April 20, 2014: Picton boat & yacht marina and tourists in the Marlborough Sounds on an autumn morning.
© Nigel Spiers / Alamy Stock Photo

A charming coastal village tucked into a bay in the South Island’s stunning Queen Charlotte Sound, Picton is a must-visit for any budding wine connoisseurs; the Marlborough Wine Region, which produces most of New Zealand’s wine, is just on the town’s doorstep. You needn’t leave town to experience the area’s natural beauty, however, with Picton’s peaceful harbor perfect for sampling locally caught seafood and shopping for craft gifts. For more energetic pursuits, the neighboring Queen Charlotte Track offers 71km (44mi) of breathtaking coastal scenery and regular water taxis back into town.

Kaikoura

Historical Landmark, Natural Feature
Map View
Nin's Bin Crayfish shop, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand
© Jon Arnold Images Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

Located a few hours’ drive north of Christchurch, the picture-perfect seaside town of Kaikoura is known for its laid-back vibe, eco-friendly attitude and stunning location where rugged mountains meet stunning seascape. The town boasts rich Maori culture, even down to its name, Kaikoura is Maori for ‘eat crayfish’, which is the town’s culinary specialty and can be bought freshly caught and cooked at local food trucks and restaurants. Hike the Kaikoura Mountains for breathtaking views over the coast and don’t miss out on a boat trip out of Kaikoura. The town offers some of the best whale, dolphin and seal-spotting in the world.

Mangawhai

Natural Feature
Map View
A view along the coastline of the pacific ocean from the famous mangawhai heads walk in northland new zealand
© Tristan Balme / Alamy Stock Photo

It may be just 100km (62mi) north of New Zealand’s biggest city, Auckland, but the charming Northland town of Mangawhai could be a whole world away. A varied beach town, Mangawhai’s Pacific beaches offer the thrill of surfing while its peaceful harbor, flanked by sand dunes that are home to rare trees and birds, offers safe swimming and kayaking. Events such as the Mangawhai Walking Weekend held each autumn encourages residents and visitors alike to discover the town’s natural beauty. A longtime haven for artists too, Mangawhai has a thriving arts scene and is home to many galleries and studios.

Hokitika

Natural Feature
Map View
Clock tower in the main street of the town of Hokitika, West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand
© imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

Founded in the 1860s following the discovery of gold in the area, Hokitika quickly developed into a thriving river port with quite a wild reputation. The town’s colorful history was recently retold in author Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Luminaries. Hokitika’s proximity to several of the South Island’s natural wonders, including the majestic Franz Josef Glacier and the beautiful Arthur’s Pass National Park, makes it an ideal base for exploring the nearby natural landscape, while the town itself offers beautiful old buildings and unique events like the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival, which celebrates wild foods foraged from the West Coast region.

Raglan

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark
Map View
Bridal Veil Falls, Raglan, Waikato, North Island, New Zealand
© imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

Located just west of Hamilton, New Zealand’s fourth-largest city, is the picturesque coastal community of Raglan. A town whose beaches are often hailed as home to the best surfing in the country, Raglan’s rugged surroundings also offer plenty of other activities from hiking at Bridal Veil Falls to traversing the Te Toto Gorge. The town’s laid-back, bohemian vibe is just as refreshing, with friendly residents and an eclectic community of cafes, bars and art galleries.

These recommendations were updated on May 18, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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